This is the fourth and final installment of a series about my recent run-in with a most unpleasant malady, Shingles. I hope it will encourage those who have not had the vaccination to set aside all your acrimony and distrust toward “Big Pharm,” and get vaccinated. It is also a lesson learned and an acquisition of empathy for all those who suffer from disabilities and illness we cannot “see.” (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.)
Part Four: Emergence, False Starts and Realizations
Sitting in an AA meeting somewhere years ago, I remember the talk turned to what is referred to as “the moment of clarity.” Not quite on par with an epiphany, which is more of a mystical experience, a moment of clarity occurs when you realize you have had enough of a certain behavior; it is counterproductive at best, and self-destructive on the other end of the spectrum.
With my Shingles, the moment of clarity came at the end of week two. After wondering and wandering around in a drug induced fog for days, it was time to detox and get going again…regardless of the progression of my Shingles. Oh, and I had three days to do it in.
Life does not stop when you are ill; cliché but true. I noticed the sun was still setting every evening and rising every morning despite my malady (and for the pedantic, I know it is actually the Earth rotating). Bills have to be paid, plants watered, dogs need to be walked (boy do they ever), laundry needs to be done and I was sorely in need of a shave and shower. Life events do not stop either. At the end of the week, my gal and I were flying to the bay area for my daughter’s graduation from law school. That is one of those big events you simply may not miss.
So, I began my detox from all the substances I had been using to mitigate the pain. No more vicodine, soma, anti-depressant with pain killers, and off too came those wonderful lidocaine patches. And for the first hour, I was fine.
About hour three, the pain came back. Longingly, I looked at the bottles of pills, having imaginary conversations as they were telling me they were my best friends. One pill, one tiny pill, that’s all. I imagined John Cleese’s waiter from the Meaning of Life tempting Mr. Creosote with just one tiny mint…and we all know how that turned out. No, I will not buckle in my conviction.
Hour five, boy does that hurt. A little fire on the skin, a little deep ache in the hip, and now my back muscles were starting to wind up like rubber bands on a model airplane. AND I AM NOT GRUMPY, SO LEAVE ME ALONE! My son and the dogs wisely steered clear of me.
Hour seven found me pacing the floor, Lil Bear and Mason following me everywhere. It was the closest to a walk they had in several days. And then came the stomach cramps, joined shortly thereafter with the return of nausea. Between the two it was, “Two Exits, No Waiting.” At one point I stopped picturing and began actually wondering if I had grown an internal hand and it was squeezing my entire gastro-intestinal system like a tube of toothpaste. Note to self; buy baby wipes.
Hour twelve found me watching a movie about a Japanese prisoner of war camp during WWII. I thought how much I would like to trade places with any one of the prisoners, including that one who cannot keep his mouth shut and is locked in a tiny box in the hot sun. I was envious, he sure had it good.
In the growing twilight, I went into backyard and enjoyed the cool of the evening. I was sweating and drained, but I looked up and saw the first star of the evening. Perhaps it was hysteria, but I found myself laughing at the thought there might be some alien life form in his patio, looking at our star, and going through the same misery I was going through. And I had finally found company for my misery.
I believe that was the turning point in my self-pity and lack of control over the pain. I decided then and there, my Shingles were just that; mine. I did not belong to my Shingles, it belonged to me. I was in control. My moment of clarity was beginning to pay off, albeit perhaps a bit premature.
That night was a long night. Trips to bathroom, tossin’ and turnin’, pain like a multitude of tiny electric shocks and fitful dreams…and then with the arrival of the grey dawn, it was over. I was shaky and drained, but the detox was over and the pain, surprisingly, or perhaps miraculously had entered a new phase of mere discomfort. It was bliss.
And then another cruel trick.
I don’t know about you, but when I have been sick, I enjoy stepping on the scale to see how much weight, albeit temporary, I have lost. In two weeks I had dropped fourteen pounds. I am a pretty good sized fella, and that sort of weight loss is akin to throwing rocks in the Grand Canyon, but I will take a fourteen pound weight loss any day. I thought of it as a sort of reward.
When I looked down at the scale though, I noticed my belly was a lop-sided. I thought well maybe I am still a little out there and not seeing things right. It did feel a little hard to the touch on the right side though and just seemed weird.
As you will recall, Shingles is a viral infection. The key word here is infection. You have an infected tooth, your mouth swells. You cut your finger and it becomes infected, your finger swells. You get Shingles, and where ever it shows up there is swelling.
I was feeling good enough, however, to make my first sojourn into public. My canine wards needed to walk and I needed baby wipes. I thought to myself, with all this weight loss, my pants will be loose. Imagine my surprise when I pulled on my trousers and it was impossible to fasten them. My shingles were in my pelvic region and it seems my entire waist had swollen about two inches. What kind of cruel joke is this? Well, good enough excuse to get back into sweat pants.
Never a fashion plate, but more of a fashion risk, I feel perfectly comfortable shopping a TJ Maxx or Ross Dress for Less. Besides they think I am a senior and they give me a 15% discount. I should feel guilty, but hey, if you think I am old and I am not, that is your faux pas, not mine. Caveat discount store. So along with a dog walk, and baby wipes, I had to get some big boy pants for the upcoming graduation.
I have to admit shopping for pants which two weeks ago would have been two sizes too big for me was a bit down heartening. It is what it is, and I found a pair for cheap so when the swelling goes down, I would not feel too bad about relegating them to back to of the closet with all the other various too fat, too thin clothes we all keep, just in case. You do too, admit it.
Then two very excited canines got to take a walk. We like the park at the NTC, aka McMillan’s Liberty Station. There is a nice mile long path adjacent to the bay channel where Mason can chase squirrels and Lil Bear can check her pee-mails and respond to her heart’s content. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, light breeze, perfect for a stroll. I noticed, however, about half way in I was breathing heavy and felt tired. By the time we got back to the car, I was dragging. It seems my Shingles took more out of me than I had anticipated. But that is what naps are for and upon my return home, a guilt-free lengthy one was in order.
Over the next couple of days my strength began to return and my Shingles took on various forms and level of discomfort. The sores had now scabbed over and it really began to look like its namesake. I was on the mend. By Friday I was ready to fly to the graduation. So off to Lindbergh field where invariable I do something to draw the attention of TSA (this time I forgot my rosary in my pants pocket and it earned a testicular fondling from a member of the crack security team tasked with protecting our nation…I guess we Catholics are genuinely dangerous folk). The flight was uneventful, my investment in an iPod Nano paid off, and Uncle Jerry and the Dead kept me pacified through to our destination. We arrived at our motel, and aside from a little fatigue I felt pretty good. Graduation was at 9:30 the next morning (who thought that up?), so my gal and I turned in early. The next day was going to be a long one.
After a complimentary breakfast buffet, my gal and headed to the campus. Mobile telephones do serve a purpose sometimes other than just an albatross around our necks (or in our pocket or purse) and we found Meg before the ceremony. She is now the second one in my family to have earned the privilege of wearing a tam, and she looked deservedly radiant. So here, indulge me, and I will take a proud Poppa non-sequitur moment here.
When Meg and Matt were little and I was their divorced trial attorney dad, sometimes I had to take them to court with me for early morning hearings because their daycare or school was not open early enough to take them first. They would sit quietly in the back of the courtroom while I would make an appearance and deal with whatever reason I was there first thing in the morning.
One such morning, the bailiff asked me if that was Gem and Scout back there. I said sure and jokingly asked, “Does that make me Atticus?” He looked me straight in the eye and replied, “Yes, didn’t you know that already?” A tremendous compliment, especially coming from law enforcement to a criminal defense attorney…and also overheard by Meg. Always inquisitive, she wanted to know who Gem, Scout and Atticus were, and I explained the best way for her to understand, we needed to read To Kill a Mockingbird, together. And so at age nine, my daughter was immersed into a life of civil rights advocacy. She never told me this, but Meg told my gal at a family gathering recently it was sharing Harper Lee’s novel with me which set her on the path to where she was today.
And so you will understand when she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, her father was smiling broadly and the tear in his eye was the product of pride, and not pain. She stopped at the edge of the stage, found me in the sea of proud family members, smiled, waved and blew me a kiss. My heart raneth over.
After the graduation ceremony, Meg had some catching up to do with all her friends. My gal and I took this time to drive into the Santa Cruz Mountains to visit my best friend and his family for the afternoon. We had plans to meet up with Meg for a celebration dinner in Los Gatos later in the evening. I rested as much as I could with a couple of god-children who were excited to see me.
We had reservations for 8:30 and arrived on time but had to wait while the waitress chased off a group dilly-dallying at the table. It was twilight and the sky was such a deep luxurious blue it looked like a velvet blanket hovering above us. We amused ourselves watching tiny bats zip up and down the little side street nabbing evening bugs for their dinner. Our dinner, which had no bugs, was outstanding (note to Editordude: Send Judi up to Los Gatos to do a critique of Cin Cin), but around 10:30 p.m. I was beginning to fade. Saying our good-byes, my gal and I eventually made it back to the motel around 11:30 p.m. By any standards out and about at 11:30, anymore for me is a late night, but given my recovery status, I was all in. I don’t remember falling asleep, but apparently I did because I found myself in bed in the morning.
Another breakfast buffet In the morning and it was off to the airport (I remembered to remove my rosary this time) and we flew uneventfully back to San Diego. A short trip home and I slept for the next eighteen hours.
The next week my leave was over, and it was back to University. While projects had been left undone, the tasks did not seem insurmountable, just a little catch up. And the sun continued to set in the evening and rise in the morning.
Over the next few weeks, I would have very good days and some not so good days. I am back into as much of a routine in my life as I will tolerate and glad to be back with living. Apparently, I will continue to experience discomfort (it really does not qualify as pain) for some time. It may even be permanent. I am not concerned, and I will embrace as a part of who I am.
As I wrote earlier, compassion is the greatest gift of the whole experience. I learned so much about what an incomparable gift compassion is and how simply it can be given away. It is truly a powerful energy. It can be grown in each of us and it is infinitely renewable. And its Green.
The little and big things done for me by the people in my life, was the true life changing experience. I have been on this journey learning about and how to be compassionate. Over time I have read, I have written, I have lectured and I have tried to be compassionate. It always seems, however, to come down to a conditional gift; given only to those whom I deemed deserved it. That is just not how it works.
Compassion should be for those who need it, not those who “deserve” it. The guy who cuts me off in traffic, I pray he is not distracted because of a family emergency and he gets home safely. The surly counter person may have just lost her best friend. She needs a kind word and a smile, not a look of exasperation or snotty remark. Those folk who write angry and hateful blog posts, I will not respond with an equally divisive remark…if I do respond, it will be a hope they can let go of anger. It will eat you alive, just as easily as my Shingles could have me.
I have also learned, not everything told to me by big business is a lie or suspect. I will remain vigilant, but I will no longer treat every warning as a cry of wolf, nor will I act like Chicken Little. I will continue to educate myself and find resources which will allow me make responsible and well-reasoned decision about those things which affect my life and others. I will take serious that which is serious and give only passing acknowledgement of those which are not.
Tomorrow will be nine weeks since my Shingles first showed up. As unlikely as it sounds, I am better for hosting it. I hope you have been enlightened, and if not at least amused. Thank you for sticking with this exceptionally wordy missive to the end. I will let you draw your own conclusion, learn your own lesson, or find your own points. The tale is over now.
In Peace and Namaste, Jack